Fasting has been part of religious and cultural traditions for centuries. Yet in recent years, nutritionists and health experts have proven that water fasting — reducing all food and drink to only H₂O for a short time — also has numerous health benefits.
The short and long-term benefits of not eating for a period of time may outweigh the short- and long-term challenges. Water fast has the potential to improve a range of health conditions, and here is a look at what water fast is.
What Is Water Fasting?
Water fast is a regimen in which an individual restricts their food and drink intake. Water fast can be done for a short or long period of time.
Some people engage in a day fast on only water, while others engage in a three day fast. If it is your first fast, health professionals don’t recommend fasting for more than five days. Standard intermittent fasts allow for the intake of water, so water fasts can also be done as part of a different regimen.
According to Frank Hu, nutrition department chair at Harvard, intermittent fasting arose from research on animals, which showed that it can lower the risk of cancer and reduce the side effects of growing older. The potential anti-aging effects of fasting are just one reason why so many people are trying out the trend.
Benefits of Water Fasting
Not all claims of the benefits of water fast have been substantiated. Water fast can support weight loss, blood sugar maintenance, and relief from a variety of health problems, and here is a look at the proven health benefits of water fast.
Autophagy is a natural bodily process by which the cells clean themselves of accumulated waste materials. Sometimes, cells remove these molecules by recycling and reusing them, and other times they eliminate these materials all together.
Autophagy has been shown to improve liver function, especially in instances of drug and alcohol-related damage. Other studies show that autophagy boosts immunity by reducing toxins in the body and clearing out potential disease-causing agents. Without autophagy, research suggests that muscle degeneration and weakness can occur.
It has been shown that autophagy can reduce inflammation, meaning it can have a potential effect on genetic and inherited diseases, as well as autoimmune diseases.
Water fasting is a fast and effective way to lose body weight. Is it really effective? For a short period of time, research suggests yes.
A study on people of average weight showed that water fasting every other day increased the rate of fat oxidation, meaning it burned fat more quickly. However, these subjects were also faced with consistently high levels of hunger. This suggests that it’s more realistic to maintain this diet for a short period of time.
Blood Pressure and Diabetes
One scientific study on prediabetic men showed that intermittent fasting could help increase insulin sensitivity. Since low insulin sensitivity leads to an increase in blood sugar levels — increasing a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes — this increased sensitivity can reduce a person’s diabetes risk.
The study showed that intermittent fasting lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease. If you are already at risk for diabetes, the results show that water fasting may support an increased resilience against the condition.
Side Effects of Water Fasting
Refeeding is the greatest risk for anyone who water fasts. Refeeding syndrome can be a side effect of fasting for a long period of time.
Refeeding syndrome is a dangerous and potentially deadly condition that happens when your body experiences dramatic, rapid changes in electrolytes and nutrients after not eating. It can cause fatigue, heart failure, dizziness, high blood pressure, seizures and, rarely, death.
Prevent Refeeding Syndrome
How can you prevent refeeding syndrome and reestablish food after a fast? If you have an eating disorder or have a history of alcoholism, you should avoid water fasting.
If you want to enjoy the health benefits of fasting while still getting the vitamins and minerals you need, you can opt for a one-day juice or cleanse. If you have been on a strict water fast for five or more days, you can be at risk of refeeding syndrome.
If you don’t have a condition that can put you at risk, it’s a good idea to reduce your fast to 72 hours or less. It is possible to avoid breaking your fast with high-fat, high- sugar meals. If you want to maintain a steady intake of electrolytes, you should drink mineral water and add himalayan salt to your water.
Water Fasting Tips
The rules for a water fast are relatively easy, but there are a few important things to keep in mind in order to have a safe and effective experience.
Drink Enough Water
Many people who try this type of fast neglect to drink water throughout the day, leaving them feeling dehydrated. Reducing your food intake reduces your hydration because most foods have water in them.
Snap Kitchen dietician Samantha Presicci suggests that, while the amount of water intake differs between people, women should aim to drink between two and two and a half liters of water and men should try to drink three liters during a water fast.
Presicci says that it is a good idea to include water into your daily schedule to ensure you are drinking enough throughout the day. During meal times, drinking water will keep you hydrated and will ward off headaches and other symptoms related to the lack of food intake.
Research shows that individuals who water fast experience depletion of crucial nutrients like potassium and sodium.
Since potassium and sodium are essential for staying hydrated and maintaining proper organ function, anyone water fasting for a prolonged period of time may want to consider ingesting some whole foods to maintain balance. Eating a small amount of food, like fruits, vegetables, or something high in protein, can curb hunger and keep your electrolytes balanced.
It is important to refrain from a large amount of food after fasting. It may make it harder to achieve your long-term weight-loss goals and leave you feeling bloated and fatigued. Small meals should be introduced when you return to your eating habits. There are a number of signs that you are low on electrolytes during fasting.
Stay Busy, But Keep It Mild
Water fasting is challenging for the mind and body, but staying busy can help you take your mind off the hunger you may be feeling. For example, meditating can calm your mind so that you’re less focused on and consumed by physical sensations. Mild exercise is also great for keeping yourself busy, and can ward off fatigue.
Be careful about exercise: Amping up your training routine during a water fast can lead to adrenal fatigue, which can cause long-term damage to the body. Since a water fast can be stressful on your internal systems, it’s important that you’re not adding additional stress with high-intensity exercise. Light exercises like yoga, pilates, and walking are a great way to get your body moving in a low-impact way.
Water Fasting for Mental and Physical Health
Fasting is a popular practice, but it isn’t something to be tried at random. When starting a new eating pattern, it is important to understand why you are fast and to place an intention behind that. A clear understanding of both the benefits and risks is required for anyone who wants to start water fasting.
By starting a new fast routine, you can boost immunity, lose weight, and increase resilience against common health problems. Contacting a healthcare professional is the best way to make sure you are safe during the process. A medically supervised water fast can transform your life and give you more insight into your long-term wellbeing.